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Winter survival tips

  • Jan 24, 2016

Surviving in the wilderness can be a very difficult situation for a lost hiker, and winter only serves to exacerbate the problem. Not only do cold and ice present immediate threats to staying alive, but edible plants are either not available or are covered by snow. Likewise, game animals may be hibernating and many birds migrate away from colder climates.

For anyone presented with a survival situation in the winter months, these tips are important to keep in mind.

Minimize risk
According to the U.S. Marine Corps Winter Survival Course, anyone heading out into wild areas should prepare for the worst by packing a survival kit. Space blankets, a multi-tool and first aid kit are among the most important items to pack. Likewise a Pro Trek watch compass can help minimize the odds of getting lost or separated from civilization.The Pro Trek PRG270D-7 with Casio's new Triple technology measures altitude in 1m increments, displays compass readings at continuous 60-second intervals, and features a unique Barometric Pressure Tendency Alarm that alerts the wearer to sudden changes in weather.

Before leaving, be sure to tell friends or family when and where you will be traveling, and research regional hazards and weather forecasts to make sure you are as prepared as possible before heading into the bush.

For anyone who may be lost in the woods during winter, starting a fire supersedes any other need. Even with a tent or adequate shelter, it can be nearly impossible to stave off hypothermia without a fire.

It is advisable for anyone traveling into deep wilderness to bring a flint or other reusable fire starter. Matches and lighters obviously are easy to use, but they cannot be relied on indefinitely. There are a number of different fire starting materials available at outdoors stores, as well as methods for igniting a fire with natural materials.

Because a fire is so important, gathering adequate firewood is equally critical. A common rule of thumb is once you feel like you've collected enough firewood for the night, double your pile.

Be sure to work slowly when collecting firewood to avoid injury and to not build up a sweat that could lead to hypothermia. For anyone who can manage, bringing along an ax or pocket-saw can go a long way for winter survival.

Once fire has been secured, building a shelter is the next step. A good shelter has a number of qualities, with protection from the elements being the most crucial.

A bush shelter will never be as comfortable as a cabin or home, but making good choices during planning is important. Select a location that is protected from the wind or water caused by snowmelt. As important as a good roof is, insulated walls or siding is key for avoiding wind chills. Using a natural barrier like a big tree or rock is a good way to build a shelter's foundation.

A good shelter should also be sturdy to withstand strong winds or other weather conditions, and also be able to retain heat. Insulate the floor with pine bows because sleeping on the cold ground can be a very dangerous situation.

Bringing fire inside your shelter may seem like an obvious idea, but in reality could be very treacherous. At best, build a big, sustainable outdoor fire, and build a very small indoor one that is well ventilated and away from any low ceilings.

Water is usually available in one form or another during winter months, and for that reason food becomes the next biggest priority in a survival situation. Plants like cattails, grasses and conifers are available year-round, but otherwise foraging options are very limited during this time of year.

For that reason, finding meat is crucial for securing food. Large game like rabbits or other rodents can be caught with various traps, and hibernating species like snakes, turtles or fish may be available near water sources. Once again, work slowly to avoid exhaustion or hypothermia.